Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pain sufferers get relief

Potomac woman leads efforts to raise awareness

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Potomac resident Gwenn Herman has been dealing with pain on a daily basis ever since she was rear-ended in a car accident in 1995.

She developed severe pain in her neck and shoulders after the accident, and also developed fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes pain and stiffness in joints, tendons and muscles.

Herman said the pain affected every aspect of her life. ‘‘It almost completely paralyzed me, the pain was so great,” she said.

The mother of two young children at the time, she was unable to pick up her son and daughter, play with them, or drive them around. As a licensed social worker, the pain also affected her counseling sessions. She had to drastically cut back the time she spent working.

Her husband, she said, had to complete most of the chores around the house. ‘‘I couldn’t pick up a gallon of milk,” Herman said.

Herman tried several surgeries, procedures, and medications, but it took five or six years before she was able to manage her pain successfully using a variety of treatments. However, after her ordeal, Herman said many misconceptions exist about people suffering with chronic pain. ‘‘For some reason, we’ve been taught that you just suck it up,” Herman said. ‘‘People don’t realize when someone has a disabling condition, it changes their lives completely.”

According to Herman, people suffering with pain are often under-treated. ‘‘Because pain is invisible, people often don’t believe you have pain,” Herman said.

In the hopes of raising awareness and providing support for pain sufferers, Herman started the Potomac-based Pain Connection group in 1999. The nonprofit provides support groups to pain sufferers in several counties in Maryland, a speaker’s series, and information and health referrals.

Herman also hopes to raise awareness about alternative treatments that are available, including meditation, yoga, massage and acupuncture. At the sessions, she uses guided imagery to help participants deal with their pain.

‘‘The main thing is you have to retrain your brain about how you deal with the pain,” Herman said. ‘‘Guided imagery and meditation help me the most, because I’m able to transport myself out of my pain and re-envision what the pain looks like,” she said.

Boyds resident Jennie Broadwell started attending Herman’s sessions after she tore her rotator cuff in a work-related accident. ‘‘She uses the guided imagery to help us relax, which is really helpful,” Broadwell said.

Broadwell said she’s also looking forward to an upcoming speaker session focused on dealing with worker’s compensation. She said she underwent a painful procedure to help treat her torn rotator cuff because her worker’s compensation would not cover a less painful, massage-based treatment.

Herman also works as a leader representing Maryland for the American Pain Foundation’s Power over Pain Action Network, a grassroots organization of pain advocates nationwide. Herman is pushing the Maryland legislature to recognize September as pain awareness month.

‘‘We have this very large network of people that work in various ways to join together to be a united voice on the importance of pain management,” said Mary Bennett, director of mobilization for the American Pain Foundation.

Bennett lauded Herman’s advocacy efforts.

‘‘Gwenn is a phenomenal leader because she wears many hats,” Bennett said. ‘‘She is a person with pain and she is also a professional – she is invaluable because she knows both perspectives.”

Even as Herman continues her work with Pain Connection – she hopes to expand the group on a national level – she continues to struggle daily with pain. ‘‘Things have improved, but it’s never gone back to where it was [before the accident].”